NaVorro Bowman ensured that their would be at least one last loud, glorious noise at Candlestick Park. In the final regular-season game in the stadium that the San Francisco 49ers have called home since 1971, the middle linebacker sealed a playoff-clinching win with an 89-yard interception return touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons on "Monday Night Football."
"I always say a lot of plays are made when you run to the ball," Bowman told ESPN's Lisa Salters after the 34-24 win. "That's all I was doing was just running to the ball, trying to make a tackle, and it popped up and I was able to make a play for my team."
With the 49ers clinging to a 27-24 lead late in the fourth quarter and the Falcons driving for a game-tying or go-ahead score, it looked like the farewell party at Candlestick could end on a down note. Instead, the 49ers clinched a playoff spot and may even be able to host a playoff game if things break their way in Week 17. In what may prove to be the final iconic moment at the windswept stadium near San Francisco Bay, Bowman grabbed hold of a pass intended for Falcons wide receiver Harry Douglas at the 49ers' 10-yard line after teammate Tramaine Brock broke up the play. Easily within range of a game-tying field that would have likely forced overtime, the Falcons were pushing for a game-winning touchdown when quarterback Matt Ryan tried to fit the pass in to Douglas. But Brock jumped the route and Bowman did the rest. The 25-year-old middle linebacker -- who had initially been blitzing on the play -- ran toward the ball, caught it and then ran 89 more yards for the score.
"That's one of the great plays by a middle linebacker ever," ESPN's Jon Gruden gushed during a replay of the touchdown.
After the 49ers held on for a 34-24 win, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh paid the play an even higher compliment given the circumstances of the night, invoking the iconic touchdown connection between Joe Montana and Dwight Clark in the 1982 NFC Championship Game.
"That's been the best thing I've ever seen happen in a football game," Harbaugh told reporters. "Might've been close to 'The Catch.'"
For Bowman, his celebration was perhaps tempered with relief. Just minutes before the interception, Bowman failed to prevent the Falcons from recovering an onside kick. He whiffed at the ball kicked by Matt Bosher enabling Jason Snelling to recover for Atlanta. Ryan would drive the Falcons within 10 yards of the 49ers' end zone before Bowman made amends.
"There's a lot of history in this stadium and for this to be the last game we cannot leave it with a 'L,'" Bowman told Salters. "So I'm glad we got the 'W.' If we would've got the 'L' it would have been my fault so I'm glad I was able to make it up."